Where is that dealership? In-market car buyers rely on local search to quickly and easily find businesses in their area.

Where is that dealership? In-market car buyers rely on local search to quickly and easily find businesses in their area.

If you play an active role in your dealership’s digital marketing strategy, you likely know that good search engine optimization (SEO) is one of your most important tools for driving customers to your website and generating quality leads. There’s just one problem: Unless you’ve invested considerable attention in local search as well as organic search, your online presence could be missing several key elements that are critical for getting customers through the door of your dealership.

Just how important is local search? When you type the name of your business into Google or Bing, you will see that local search results typically appear in a separate box that contains your physical address, a photo, hours of operation, contact information, reviews and other key facts about your store.

Most customers rely on this information when they’re about to leave home or driving from place to place, so it’s in your best interest to make sure it’s accurate and consistent. You wouldn’t want to lose business to your crosstown competitor because customers can’t find you, and you wouldn’t want anyone but yourself to control what they see. More on that in a moment.

It seems logical to assume that local search is simply a part of SEO, and that your efforts to build and optimize your online presence are enough to ensure the accuracy of your local search listings. But the truth is that local search is a critically important discipline independent from SEO as a whole. While local search does work hand-in-hand with organic search, it uses a unique algorithm to pull information from a specific set of sources.

That’s why dealers must take steps to ensure the accuracy of their own local search data. Failing to properly manage local search listings can have disastrous consequences, from alienating individual customers to damaging your reputation communitywide.

As complex as local search may seem, you can greatly improve your results by paying careful attention to five key dos and don’ts:

1. Do Claim and Verify Your Directory Listings.

Here’s a little-known fact about local search: Your directory listings are essentially up for grabs until someone officially claims and verifies them. Don’t let that person be a competitor, a former employee or any other unauthorized user who could sabotage your online presence.

Once you create accounts on listing sites such as Google and Bing, you can request a physical postcard with a PIN you can use to verify your business’ address. Then you can begin to update your directory information, which includes names, addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation and more.

2. Don’t Let Incorrect Info and Duplicate Listings Confuse Your Customers.

It should come as no surprise that listing sites are in the business of generating ad revenue, not compiling accurate information. What may be more surprising is that, even if you’ve begun the process of claiming your directory listings, you still may find that listing sites are pulling in information from a range of sources your business has no control over, such as data aggregators and user-generated content.

As a result, you may be left with dozens of duplicate listings, as well as some that contain inaccurate information. To take control of your reputation and help your customers find you easily, you’ll need to sort through your listings and delete the ones that shouldn’t be there.

3. Do Monitor Reviews.

From a car buyer’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than a negative review that’s never addressed, leaving questions and doubts about the way you and your sales, F&I and service teams do business. And positive reviews shouldn’t be left unanswered, either, since they’re a great opportunity to show just how much you appreciate your customers’ business, sowing the seeds for more positive reviews and repeat visits.

The bottom line is that it’s critical to monitor reviews regularly and respond to all of them. Your customers’ reviews and your responses may be the first thing potential new customers see when they execute a local search, and poor management on your part can easily dissuade them from visiting your store.

4. Don’t Fall Victim to Common Listing Errors.

Now that you have taken steps to claim and verify your directory listings, it’s time to make sure you don’t make common mistakes that can negatively impact local search. For example, many dealers don’t realize they have the opportunity to leverage advanced content options such as photos and text descriptions. These features not only show off your inventory, but they entice users to interact with your listing.

Additionally, dealers frequently make the mistake of using inconsistent nomenclature across all directory listings, as well as names that don’t distinguish different locations that are part of an auto group. If you think these sorts of inconsistencies seem insignificant, think again. They can and will deter in-market car buyers who just want to find your dealership quickly and easily.

5. Do Continue Managing Local Search Over Time.

Once you’ve claimed and verified your listings, checked for any errors and implemented a review-monitoring procedure, your job is done, right? Well, not exactly. Directories continue pulling in new information from various sources, so it’s important to continue keeping close watch over every aspect of your online presence, making adjustments as needed.

It’s hard to understate the business benefits of strong local search management, but I assure you they are there. We have seen our dealer partners use local search to connect with customers throughout the purchase funnel, generate high-quality, low-cost leads and drive increased sales. In other words, it’s clear that dealers who separate local search from SEO and build distinct campaigns around it put themselves at a tremendous advantage.

Local search management has great potential not only to build your brand, but also to give you increased ownership of your online reputation — which is, after all, one of the most valuable assets your business has.

Troy Smith is president of Search Optics, a leading automotive digital marketing provider. [email protected]